Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18 and Luke 18:9-14
Just a few words on the first reading of today’s Mass, centering on the words of Wisdom; “the prayer of the humble pierces the clouds and will not rest until it reaches its goal.”
It is easy to see who is the truly humble person in the parable Jesus offers in today’s gospel. The tax collector stood at the back of the temple, would not raise his eyes to God while repeating his truthful, humble prayer. “Lord be merciful to me a sinner.”
The word ‘humble’ is often very misunderstood and has messed up a lot of people. I was taught a great lesson in humility a number of years ago. We’d just come in from Mass and one of the ministers of the Eucharist said to me, “that was a wonderful sermon; I got a lot out of it.” My ‘humble’ response was, “my mother wrote it”. That did not go down well. She saw that I had dismissed her compliment and she was not amused. She asked me a very stinging question, ‘when are you going to be mature enough to accept a compliment graciously and get over this phony humility’? To say the least I was chastened and had to think about what she said. Have you ever refused a compliment under the illusion that to accept would be a sign of pride? I think it is an all too common fault because we have this distorted notion of humility.
So often we imagine we are being humble when we belittle ourselves, put ourselves down, and see little of good in ourselves. This is not humility, it is self deprecation. Humility is truth. Humility is accepting who we are and what we are. Humility is recognizing the gifts with which we’ve been blessed. The Blessed Mother was being humble when she said of herself, “He Who is mighty has done great things for me, holy is His name.” Mary accepted the truth of herself, she was blessed and chosen by God and she rejoiced in that truth.
Everyone at this Mass can echo the words of Mary, “He Who is mighty has done great things for me” No matter what our faults and failings, no matter the sins of which we may be conscious there is a truth beyond them. “Before the world began God chose us in Christ to be God’s adopted sons and daughters”. No matter what we may think of our own worth as we think about our sins and failings there is a truth beyond them, no matter how often we put ourselves down, are disappointed, maybe even disgusted with ourselves, there is a truth beyond, Jesus Christ thought enough of each one of us He was willing to die on the cross for us and as St. Paul reminds us “nothing can ever come between us and the love of God made visible is Christ Jesus our Lord.”
In the parable we have the example of the truthful, humble tax collector. He was a sinner. He probably defrauded and extorted any number of people. He admits his sins. Jesus is blessing the truth but obviously not the sin.
Our distorted version of humility can cause us to deny or belittle the gifts with which we’ve been blessed. We are humble when we admit, recognize and celebrate these gifts. The gift of our generosity and sensitivity to the needs of others, the gift of compassion, the gift of our being willing to be there for others, the gift of patience and perseverance as we care for aging parents or spouses, the gift of perseverance as you stayed in and grown through the better or worse of married life, the gift of understanding and patience as you parent your children through the madness of adolescence.
We are humble when admit to God the truth. “against you alone have I sinned, what is evil in your sight I have done.” We are humble when we admit the truth, “we are good people” and He Who is mighty has done great things for us.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass together, we can pray for ourselves and for each other that we be blessed with the gift of true humility, the truth to be recognize of faults and failing, the truth to recognize and celebrate the wonderful humbling truth, “He Who is mighty has done great things for me – holy is His name.”